In this month’s statewide elections in Virginia, 222 voters were forced to cast a provisional ballot because they did not provide a valid form of voter identification at their polling place. Of those voters, just 88 provided the required documentation over the next the two and half days and had their votes counted.
Until 2012, Virginia law required voters without a valid form of identification to sign an “affidavit of eligibility,” a legal oath swearing to their identity. Under this system, there was virtually no impersonation fraud in Virginia. As part of a nationwide push by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the GOP-controlled legislature muscled through a bill to require all voters to present identification at the polls or by noon the following Friday in order to have their votes cast — mostly along party lines. Though he’d earlier expressed reservations, Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the bill.
ThinkProgress reached out to the voter registrars of all 133 Virginia cities and counties to determine how many voter ID provisional ballots were cast in each jurisdiction — and how many counted.
The survey revealed that, with the 2012 law in effect, 134 apparently registered voters were either unable or unwilling to produce one of the legally valid forms of identification and were thus disenfranchised. More than 60 percent of those without identification on election day ultimately had their votes discarded. With a recount considered likely — the State Board of Elections currently shows Democrat Mark Herring as having received just 165 more votes for Virginia Attorney General (out of more than 2.2 million cast) than Republican Mark Obenshain — those 134 voters could potentially have made the difference in that race. And these numbers do not include voters lacking ID who did not stay to cast a provisional ballot.
But not content with the strict 2012 voter ID law, McDonnell and the Republican General Assembly enacted another bill in 2013 to make the requirements even stricter. Starting in 2014, voters will need to produce photo identification to have their votes counted — eliminating the free voter identification cards sent out to every registered voter as a valid ID option.
With estimates of the number of Virginians lacking a valid photo Id ranging from 4,200 registered voters to 870,000 people — and voters without required to show up at their local voter registrar’s office with proof of identity prior to voting, the number of voters disenfranchised in next November’s Senate and Congressional races could be even higher.
Virginia Delegate Scott Surovell (D), who strongly opposed the ID laws, told ThinkProgress that there is “no question” that these additional “obstacles to voting will cause more provisional ballots being cast” and disenfranchise even more voters. “The gubernatorial election is the third-highest turnout in the four-year cycle. When we go into the federal cycle [in 2014], it’s usually the second highest. “ In the next presidential election in 2016, which typically has the highest turnout, Surovell says the number unable to vote due to the ID laws “will hit the roof.”
Surovell added that the restrictions, like the Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (“TRAP”) laws being pushed nationally to make abortions virtually impossible to obtain, are part of a broader effort to chip away at American liberties. ALEC and its conservative legislative allies, he observed, “are trying to create as many hurdles as possible to exercising your constitutional rights.”
John W. Farrell, general counsel for the Fairfax County Democratic Party and his party’s representative at the county’s electoral board meeting, told ThinkProgress that of the 15 voter ID provisional voters rejected in that jurisidction, at least four had valid identification but presented it after the Friday at noon deadline.